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TESOL Connections (March 2010)

by User Not Found | 11/09/2011

• Grammatically Speaking
• Working Together: Bringing Muslim Students into the ESL Classroom, by T. Leo Schmitt

Association News

  • New TESOL Executive Director Appointed
  • Just Off Press: Authenticity in the Language Classroom and Beyond: Children and Adolescent Learners
  • New calls for book submissions: Focus on Form and Teaching Idioms
  • TESOL Cosigns Issue Brief from the Coalition of the Academic Workforce
  • 2010 Convention and Exhibit in Boston, Massachusetts, USA:
  • Electronic Village & Technology Showcase: View the Program or Volunteer
    TESOL/NCATE Campus Representatives' Workshop on March 24 in Boston
  • Don't miss important Advocacy and Public Policy sessions!


  • TRC Featured Resource: 2009 TESOL Virtual Seminar: Closing the Achievement Gap for Limited Formal Schooling and Long-Term English Language Learners (Yvonne Freeman and David Freeman)
  • 2010 US Census: Toolkit for Reaching Immigrants
  • How to Prepare for an ESL Job Interview
  • U.S. Dept. of Education invites secondary educators to join the National Financial Literacy Challenge

    TESOL Connections Archives (members only)


    Grammatically Speaking

    Richard Firsten explores English grammar

    and answers your grammar quandaries.

    download to PDF

    Dear Richard,

    I know this isn’t strictly a grammar question, but I do hope you’ll help me out. I’ve been given an intermediate writing class to teach, and something I’d like clarification on is one of the uses of the hyphen. Does there have to be a hyphen in the following words I’ve italicized?

    This was one of the first well documented cases of demonic possession.

    Thanks for your help. Caitlin BradshawLouisville, Kentucky USA

    Dear Caitlin,

    When you have a compound adjective like the one you’ve put in italics, i.e., two or more words used together as one adjective, and the compound adjective comes before the noun it modifies as is typical in regular English word order, it should be hyphenated.

    Punctuation is an aid to the reader to avoid confusion during the reading process. When a reader sees two or more words hyphenated, the understanding is that these words are to be considered as one word; in this case, as one adjective. That’s the thinking behind the reason to hyphenate such compound adjectives. So you should write

    … one of the first well-documented cases …

    However, if these two words follow the noun at some point, hyphenation is not required:

    This was one of the first cases of demonic possession that was well documented.

    Here are some more examples of compound adjectives that need to be hyphenated before the nouns they modify, and how they don’t need hyphenation if they follow those nouns:

    • It’s a little-understood phenomenon.

    It’s a phenomenon (that’s) little understood.

    • The project failed because of their ill-conceived plan.

    The project failed because their plan was ill conceived.

    I’m glad you care about correct punctuation, Caitlin. Thanks for asking this question.


    Dear Mr. Firsten:

    I’ve tried to find an answer to this question on my own, but haven’t had any success. That’s why I’m turning to you for help. I think that one of the occupational hazards of teaching English is that if you mull something over in your mind long enough, you can end up getting all muddled!

    My question: Is there a difference between saying at the beginning and in the beginning, or do they mean the same thing? Intuitively, I feel that there is a difference, but I can’t pinpoint what that is. I hope you can help me out here.

    Lisette Mendoza

    Boulder, Colorado USA

    Dear Ms. Mendoza:

    There are times when both phrases are used interchangeably, but there does seem to be a difference between their underlying meanings.

    We normally use at the beginning when we’re thinking of the start of a specific event, at the moment that the event commences. In fact, it’s quite common to mention the specific event by adding an appositive genitive (of the ___ ):

    At the beginning of the school year, there was a need for more teachers.

    We tend to use in the beginning when we’re talking about the starting period. For example, a story or an event has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Those are the three main parts. When we’re talking about that first main part or the starting period, we usually say in the beginning:

    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

    When we use this generalized phrase in the beginning, it’s not common to use an appositive genitive.

    As I mentioned, there are times when these two phrases overlap, but I think what I’ve stated here explains the basic difference in usage. I hope this helps, Ms. Mendoza.


    Dear Mr. Firsten:

    Is a sentence like I’m concerned about his health in the passive voice? I know I can put this idea in the active voice and say His health concerns me, but I also know that I can’t just make the typical switch we teach our students and say I’m concerned by his health. That just doesn’t work. Can you please explain what’s going on?

    Passively Challenged

    Bologna, Italy

    Dear Passively Challenged:

    I can see why this has become an issue. What you’re dealing with isn’t the passive voice, per se, but something we call anadjectival passive. We make this form by using a linking verb and the past participle of a verb to be used as an adjective.

    Actually, we can check that this past participle is indeed an adjective now if we can use an adverb that shows degree before it. For example, you can say I’m concerned, but you can also say I’m very concerned or I’m quite concerned. That shows you this is an adjectival passive. In a real passive voice sentence, you can’t stick in an adverb that shows degree (The man was very arrested. / They’ve been quite promoted.)

    Thanks for sending in this question. This topic doesn’t come up much in ELT textbooks.


    Dear Richard, When I teach prepositions, I don’t have trouble explaining the difference between over and above. But when I come across over as an adverb, things get confusing. For instance, what exactly does over mean in a sentence like Come over here? Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything? I hope you use my question in your column. Thanks!

    Andrzej Borkowski

    Lublin, Poland

    Dear Andrzej,

    Oh, it definitely means something. When we use over in such phrases as over here and over there, we’re implying that there isn’t a great distance between two areas or things.

    For example, if I live in Miami and I’m going to the Bahamas, which aren’t far off the coast of Florida, I can say I’m flying over to the Bahamas. But if I live in Miami and I’m going to New York City, which is something like 1,300 miles away, I won’t say I’m flying over to New York. In that case, I’ll just say I’m flying to New York.

    Thanks for asking this question, Andrzej. For some reason, it’s not so easy to find this use for over in dictionaries.


    Dear Richard,

    A student of mine who recently had to use the services of one of these people asked me why the person is called a notary public instead of a public notary. I was at a loss. The student asked, of course, because she knows that the normal word order in English puts the adjective before the noun. So, is it okay to say public notary? And, by the way, can the plural be notary publics?

    Another thing that really gets me is that if we’re supposed to say notary public, why don’t we also say certified accountant public? In that case, we say certified public accountant. This gets very confusing! Thanks for an answer.

    Mitchell Cray

    Salt Lake City, Utah USA

    Dear Mitchell,

    Wow! This certainly seems confusing, doesn’t it! First, let’s talk a bit about notary public, which is the correct job title, by the way. We have a few titles that came into English from French, and in French, the word order is typically noun + adjective, which is just how these terms were kept when they were translated into English. So notaire publique becamenotary public and atorné general became attorney general, to give you two examples. Since we pluralize nouns in English but not adjectives, the plural forms were notaries public and attorneys general.

    Language changes, though, as we all know. Today we now accept notary publics and attorney generals as alternate plural forms, although some people still consider notaries public and attorneys general as more educated speech. That’s up to you.

    And as to why we don’t say certified accountant public, that’s because this term didn’t come into English from French, so we’ve never had that word order carry-over for this term.

    Thanks for a great question, Mitchell!


    Now let’s get to the Brain Teaser from my last column. The question was: A person is speaking at a business budget meeting. She says, “Profits have been really down for the past three quarters. Having said that, whatever money is available for raises must be tightly controlled.”

    Is there something wrong with what she said? If you think there is, what is it? If you don’t think anything is wrong, why not?

    This time there are two correct responses that came in first, each response discussing one aspect of the problems with the Brain Teaser sentence. Here’s what Patrick Rosenkjar of Tokyo, Japan, has to say:

    According to traditional grammar, there is something wrong with the sentence. The problem is that the initial phrase, Having said that, is a participial phrase that has been left dangling in the sentence. Normally such a phrase at the beginning of a sentence functions as an adjective that modifies the subject of the sentence; and the sentence surely means something like Having said that, I maintain that whatever money is available for raises must be tightly controlled. In this revised sentence the subject is I, and it is Iwho did the saying. However, in the sentence you cite, the subject noun phrase is whatever money, which is modified by the participial phrase in question. Since it is clearly nonsense for money to say anything, the sentence would be viewed as wrong by traditional grammar purists. Having said that, I would add, though, that in everyday conversations this construction is often used just as given in your sentence, and no one fails to understand the meaning.

    Thanks for your column, which I never fail to enjoy.

    And Kathy Burnell of Conway, New Hampshire, USA adds this:

    Having said that really means something like, “despite the aforementioned.” A more appropriate conclusion would be Having said that, we will do our best to provide raises for the highest performing workers.

    Thank you, Patrick and Kathy, for tackling this Brain Teaser and finding the two problems contained in the original sentence. As Patrick has pointed out, purists will say that we should immediately mention the subject right after sayingHaving said that so that this phrase is not left dangling. But I’m glad that Patrick has also pointed out that in conversational English, this kind of pat phrase has become acceptable because of the most typical meaning that Kathy brought to light, i.e., the idea of “however” or “in spite of what I’ve just said.” Well done, guys!

    And now here’s a new Brain Teaser: Which choice in bold is correct in the following sentence?

    Send a memo about the upcoming budget meetingto whoever/whomever is working on the project.

    Please e-mail your responses to

    When writing to Grammatically Speaking, please include your name and location (city and state, province, or country). If your question or response is selected for publication, your name and location will be printed unless you specify otherwise.

    Read the Grammatically Speaking Archives in Essential Teacher (2003–10/2009)

    Read Grammatically Speaking in the TESOL Connections archives (12/2009–present)


    Working Together: Bringing Muslim Students

    Into the ESL Classroom download to PDF

    by T. Leo Schmitt

    Penn State University

    In this article I first situate the value of cultural analysis and review why looking at Muslim culture can be informative. I then address the challenge of looking at Muslims as a single group and generalities that might be applied. I conclude by looking at how some issues impact the classroom. Recognizing and understanding the role of culture for Muslim students can improve the overall classroom experience for all concerned.


    Readers of this newsletter will likely realize the importance of intercultural communication and learning about different cultures. However, I believe it vital that we remember two facts.

    First, there are universal attributes human beings share. Everyone shares certain desires and understandings regardless of who they are. Everyone wants to feel validated. Everyone understands pain and joy for themselves and for others. All students (and teachers), regardless of their culture, are human beings with fears, talents, and aspirations.

    Second, each student is an individual. Individuals vary enormously. Some cleave to their culture; others reject it; most adopt varying relations to it. The various cultural, social, religious, and life experiences all people undergo differ and make everyone unique. Linguistic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds can reveal some things about people, but they are never the whole picture. Individuals also interact with their culture and the world around them differently. Understanding a culture is just one part of understanding each of the individual students in class. An individual can understand his or her own culture, but that does not mean he or she understands every individual in it; rather, it means merely that he or she has an idea of the cultural systems. Thus, culture is but one very illuminating factor in helping us understand our students. Culture affects, but does not dictate, most aspects of life, from what people eat to how they interact with others to how they conceptualize the world around them.


    About 20 percent of the world’s population is Muslim. In the United States, there has been significant growth in refugees from conflict areas such as Bosnia, Somalia, and Afghanistan. A growing number of Muslims, such as Saudis in intensive English programs, have entered as students. Combined with this are tensions seen in the media and highlighted by President Obama in his speech at Cairo University (2009), noting issues such as terrorism, Islamophobia, freedom of religion, nuclear weapons, and Israel/Palestine.

    As Rich and Troudi (2006) remind us, values and politics cannot be entirely excluded from the classroom. If Islamophobia, terrorism, and other issues from the media impact us or our students, they can form a lingering backdrop in the ESL classroom. It behooves teachers to understand how this can be managed to best serve learners.


    Like other cultural communities, the Muslim community is not monolithic. From Saudi Arabia to Suriname and Fiji to Canada, Muslims have varying histories, languages, and cultures. Just as individuals vary, so do subcultures.

    At both the individual level and the subculture level, we must avoid painting with a broad brush. As Fuller and Lesser (1995) warned,

    A sweeping “civilizational” approach can even be harmful over the longer run, not so much because it is false in all cases but because that kind of emotive characterization leads to simplistic and damaging views by both sides, a recipe for self-fulfilling prophecies. (p. 5)

    In addition to differences between Muslim cultures, there are also differences in the impact of modernism. Just as modern society and its benefits and ills have penetrated the rest of the world unevenly, so too in the Muslim world. Students may arrive fully familiar with many of the latest social and technological developments, or they may bring experiences that have changed little in generations. Although this differing impact can shape linguistic and cultural patterns, there are still some important shared aspects of Muslim culture.


    Bearing the previous caveat in mind, we can look at some generalizations.

    The very fact that one can talk about Muslims, rather than Arabs, Turks, or Africans, indicates that religion plays a significant role in society. Religion in the Muslim world is widely viewed as a positive thing, integral to social harmony and supportive of stability and unity. It is often also viewed as more public than it is in the secular West or in East Asia. This leads to an emphasis on both a relationship with God and morality. Thus questions of both day-to-day living and more general philosophical issues are heavily influenced by religious thought. For example, any visitor to a Muslim nation is reminded of this by the azan, or call to prayer, five times a day, and even secular Muslim nations generally have more legal restrictions on issues viewed as personal moral issues in the West, such as pornography, homosexuality, and abortion.


    Though there remains considerable debate about cultural and linguistic imperialism, there is a strong indication that negotiation and exchange of views on topics ranging from the banal to the controversial can produce excellent results in a class (e.g., Ernst, 1994). Muslim students come with differing expectations, and so do non-Muslim students and faculty, but an open and realistic dialog can offer learners an opportunity for language use as well as a better understanding of viewpoints of both Muslim and non-Muslim students.

    In my experience and through conversations with colleagues, numerous areas may cause concern in the ESL classroom. The most frequent seem to include gender relations, the role of religion in society, and views on science.

    Each of these could be the subject of a much longer article. What is important is that instructors try to gain at least a minimal understanding of the culture and viewpoints of their Muslim students and approach controversial topics with tact and consideration.

    Religion in general, Islam in particular, is respected in Muslim cultures. Views on organized religion naturally vary considerably, but there remains an underlying respect for the divine. Mocking, disparaging, or even sidelining the spiritual side of life is much less common than in the secular West and can be met with shock, dismay, or even anger. Challenging dialog is certainly possible, but the likelihood of alienating students can be diminished if teachers approach spiritual issues with respect for the sensitivities of students in whose lives religion and spirituality play a central role.

    Science and religion have an exceedingly complex relationship far beyond the scope of this brief overview. What is germane is that the historical interplay of faith and reason has been different in the Muslim world than in the West. Consequently, Muslims tend to have fewer problems seeing religion playing a role in science and general discourse.

    The traditional views of gender division are common in Muslim societies. Men and women are often seen as having differing roles and in some cultures genders are separated, intersecting at the family and rarely outside. Because of this, some Muslims may feel uncomfortable around members of the opposite sex. Most students can quickly adjust to coeducational settings, but—as with most cultural changes—a gentle, supportive introduction can be far more effective than a sudden shock. Starting students off in larger mixed-gender groups in the classroom rather than in pairs can be one way to gently introduce the idea of working with others.


    If teachers truly want to include their Muslim students along with all their other students, they need to follow the advice of Canagarajah (2006) and move from an us/them to a we perspective that recognizes the universal and the individual along with the cultural (p. 27).

    As teachers interact with students, they also interact with themselves. In a true learner-centered approach, Muslim and non-Muslim teachers and students can benefit from each other’s perspectives, building on the strengths each individual brings to the class. If we listen to students, elicit their voices, and learn together, we as well as our students can benefit.


    Canagarajah, S. (2006). TESOL at 40: What are the issues? TESOL Quarterly, 40, 9-34.

    Ernst, G. (1994). “Talking Circle”: Conversation and negotiation in the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 293-322.

    Fuller, G., & Lesser, I. (1995). A sense of siege: The geopolitics of Islam and the West. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Obama, B. (2009). Obama’s Middle East speech in full [Online video]. Retrieved August 30, 2009, from

    Rich, S., & Troudi, S. (2006). Hard times: Arab TESOL students’ experiences of racialization and othering in the United Kingdom. TESOL Quarterly, 40, 615-627.

    Leo Schmitt is assistant director at the Intensive English Communication Program at Penn State University. He has been teaching for more than 20 years and has spent almost 10 years in the Middle East.

    This article first appeared in the Intercultural Communication Interest Section Newsletter, December 2009, Volume 7, Number 3. To read the entire newsletter, click here.